The case against the death star

May 11th, 2012 at 11:49 am by David Farrar

I’ve previously covered the debate about whether the death star is a good investment from a fiscal point of view. Now the debate is about whether it is a good idea politically. The case against:

First, the Death Star is a bit misunderstood. It is primarily a tool of domestic politics rather than warfare, and should be compared to alternative means of suppressing the population of a galaxy. Second, as a weapon of war, it should be compared to alternative uses of scarce defense resources. Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it. …

I see the Death Star (DS) as the Emperor’s solution to the dictator’s dilemma.  First, note that its construction precedes the Rebel Alliance; the plans are first developed by the Separatists in Episode 2 and, by the time it is completed, the Rebel Alliance has just won its “first victory.” While it may have some use as a deterrent against possible invaders, the DS is primarily a tool of domestic politics. Prior to its completion, the Emperor is compelled to keep the Imperial Senate around, presumably to maintain the semblance of popular consent. But the Senate imposes some inefficiency—meddling in military strategy, perhaps, or directing spending to some favored planets. Once the DS is operational, the Emperor can disband the Senate and, instead, empower Imperial governors to suppress the local population and extract revenue. 

So the Death Star was about allowing the Senate to be replaced by Governors.

But how can the Emperor guard against rebellion by one of these governors? Or revolt by a local planet’s population? The answer is simple: he can zip around in the baddest weapon in the galaxy, destroying his foes with the push of a button. No foe could fight back, and the DS is mobile enough to respond to multiple threats in short order.

Note that this scheme provides an easy answer to the question, “how can we afford a Death Star?” If the scheme works, the Death Star will pay for itself dozens of times in the additional tax revenue from fearful planets, and by the money not spent by the military putting down revolts with conventional weapons.

So seems a good idea, right?

But will it work?  Only if it induces cooperation through fear. Every planet blown up represents a tremendous loss of potential future revenue, so like nuclear weapons today, the actual use of the DS is a calamity. Moreover, like nuclear weapons, they only work as a deterrent if they are used judiciously. citizens throughout the galaxy must believe that failure to pay their taxes and comply with their Imperial masters will lead to detonation, but also that compliance will save them. The fact that the DS was used against Alderaan, however, would likely have had the opposite effect. Alderaan is “peaceful” and “has no weapons.” It was detonated because its teenage senator was secretly aiding the Rebel Alliance and waited too long to give up Dantoonie.  …

If the net effect of the DS is to make every person in the galaxy think their planet could be the next one arbitrarily destroyed, it actually mobilizes them to join the rebellion.

So use of the death star will not work, and indeed it did not.

 

 

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16 Responses to “The case against the death star”

  1. Chthoniid (2,035 comments) says:

    I’d invest in weapons training for storm troopers on marksmanship instead.

    I’m convinced that would have a better payoff at ridding the galaxy of teenage senators, orphans and animated teddy-bears.

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  2. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    @Chthoniid – they were all meant to be clones of Temuera Morrison, better to clone someone who could hit a target!

    If your going to build a DS then make sure it’s got better defences against small ships.

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,234 comments) says:

    I think the end conclusion is flawed. Fear does lead to compliance (look at for example occupied France in WWII, of course AFTER the war it turned out simply everybody was in the resistance).

    I’m playing SWTOR at the moment and loving the different angles it takes on the Republic and Empire (obviously from a time before the movies).

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  4. adze (2,093 comments) says:

    They also need to make the exhaust port much smaller and harder to hit than a womp rat. /geek

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  5. RRM (9,786 comments) says:

    This analysis seems to ignore the non-trivial amount of resources needed to build the Death Star… I hope all the tax revenue accrued is sufficient to make it worthwhile.

    Meanwhile I think the human race learned their lesson about wasting resources on building Capital Ships for your enemies to take aim at, with enormous firepower but flawed armour protection, at the Battle of Jutland during the first world war…?

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  6. adze (2,093 comments) says:

    Nimitz class (and its descendants) supercarriers are probably the modern equivalent, RRM.

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  7. tvb (4,330 comments) says:

    A Death Star would be a great investment if you plan to rule by fear. Imagine if Hitler got a nuclear weapon. LOndon would be rubble and Britain would have to sue for an armistice.

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  8. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    @ RRM

    The Bismark, Prince of Wales, Repulse, Tirpitz, Hipper etc seem to show the human race learnt nothing of the sort.

    The Death Star would have been a great success if they had managed to get the catering right

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  9. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    The V-2 rocket would probably be a good analogy to the DS. It’s value was more as a weapon of fear and propaganda than it actually being effective in causing damage.

    Even if the Empire was effective in making the DS secure against external attack they would still be highly susceptible to a terrorist attack from someone infiltrating the storm trooper ranks. If you are going to blow up whole planets, killing billions of people, someone is bound to be related to someone who gets really pissed off about it.

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  10. simonway (381 comments) says:

    Of course the warmongers in office don’t do any kind of analysis before running off full tilt and blowing up planets left and right. The real reason for building the Death Star was to funnel money to the Emperor’s military contractor buddies.

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  11. Cato (1,095 comments) says:

    Flawed analysis that gets two things wrong:

    1- “It was detonated because its teenage senator was secretly aiding the Rebel Alliance and waited too long to give up Dantoonie.” Sorry, it was “detonated” [sic] because its teenage senator waited too long to give up the schematics for the weapon itself which, in the event, enabled the weapon’s destruction.

    2- “…like nuclear weapons, they only work as a deterrent if they are used judiciously.” Which doesn’t quite acknowledge the fact that nuclear weapons did prove a cost-effective way for the democratic West to contain the Soviets who, being a totalitarian dictatorship, could afford to spend around 60% of its GDP maintaining a massive slave army that, absent mutually assured destruction, could probably have reached Paris in about three weeks.

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  12. KevinH (1,207 comments) says:

    The Deathstar was no match for a second hand “X” wing fighter and linguistics bot who were able to circumvent the Deathstar’s formidable defences and destroy it with old school nukes. A kind of David and Goliath happy ending.

    @tvb
    You are exactly right, the English were fortunate that Oppenheimer got out of Europe before the Nazis’ got their hands on him, the V1 & V2 were being developed as delivery vehicle’s for Hitler’s new super weapon which thankfully never got off the ground.

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  13. chiz (1,132 comments) says:

    KevinH:The Deathstar was no match for a second hand “X” wing fighter and linguistics bot who were able to circumvent the Deathstar’s formidable defences and destroy it with old school nukes

    Not everyone is convinced that that is how the Death Star was really destroyed: video

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  14. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,744 comments) says:

    Talking of Death Star, back in the real world a handy little documentary:

    Check out 14:45, “Fly in Peace”.

    The Typhoon Submarine

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  15. Put it away (2,878 comments) says:

    R2 was a maintenance droid, 3po was the linguistics droid.

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  16. simonway (381 comments) says:

    Which doesn’t quite acknowledge the fact that nuclear weapons did prove a cost-effective way for the democratic West to contain the Soviet

    Uh… were they used judiciously or not? Nukes were never actually used against an enemy after WWII, which strikes me as pretty judicious. If the USSR thought that the USA was going to use nukes against them no matter what they did, then they would have zero deterrent effect. Similarly, if Vader and Palpatine go around blowing up peaceful planets because of one link to the Rebel Alliance, then every other planet realises that there’s no cost to providing greater assistance to the Alliance that they wouldn’t incur anyway, because even if they decide to stay out of the whole business, they still might get blown up.

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